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Productivity: Work-related Stress

Volume 793: debated on Thursday 15 November 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of work-related stress on productivity.

My Lords, an estimated 15.4 million working days were lost last year due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. That is 57% of the total days lost due to work-related ill health. The 2017 Stevenson/Farmer review of workplace mental health made 40 recommendations, all of which were welcomed by the Government.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but the Government’s latest skills and employment survey told us that we are working harder than ever and are under increased strain. In spite of this, productivity has stagnated. Recent research by McKinsey seems to show that less prescriptive management empowers staff to be more productive and reduces stress. What can be done to encourage this good practice? It would certainly help with the productivity puzzle. It also costs little and could relieve some of the mental health problems we hear about every day.

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to draw attention to productivity problems, which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State raised in the Industrial Strategy last year. He is also right to talk about work-related stress, which was recognised as a problem by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in January 2017. That is why she commissioned the review from the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and Paul Farmer, which produced its report in October last year. The Government then responded, accepting all the recommendations. The Government will do whatever they can both as an employer, to help to reduce work-related stress, and through setting an example to others and encouraging employers in other fields. We will also take note of the noble Lord’s suggestions.

My Lords, large organisations have volunteer first-aiders. Would the Government consider having volunteer mental health first-aiders so that somebody with a mental health condition who wants signposting could go to them in the same way that somebody with a workplace injury could see someone?

My Lords, that is a very interesting suggestion. I cannot remember the precise details of all the recommendations in the Stevenson/Farmer report as to whether that was one of them, but it certainly recommended that large employers—organisations with more than 500 people—should take certain actions. The Government recommended applying that to employers with more than 250 people, an improvement on that figure. I will certainly take the noble Baroness’s suggestion on board and ensure that it is looked at.

My Lords, I do not wish to trivialise the issue but I want to bask in the reflected glory of the name Stevenson. Unfortunately, it was nothing to do with me. I guess there must be quite a lot of stress in the party opposite in the current circumstances so I send them my best wishes at this difficult time.

Does the Minister accept that work-related stress is one of the components of job quality? On page 118 of the 254-page Industrial Strategy, the Government set out a programme of work stemming from Matthew Taylor’s review, which assessed job quality and success—including the well-being of workers and employees, which is said to be fundamental. Can he say what progress has been made on that work stream?

My Lords, if the noble Lord can be patient, he will get a further response to the Taylor review in due course. I assure him that there is no stress in the Conservative Party or the Government at the moment.

My Lords, have the Government considered the impact on stress and mental health of zero-hours contracts? Does the Minister agree that although they may suit students and semi-retired people, they are not good for the rest of the population?

My Lords, I am very glad that the noble Lord highlighted the fact that zero-hours contracts have a part to play in our economy. As he suggested, they are of considerable benefit to a great many people, such as students and retired people. They also benefit others. Again, if the noble Lord can be patient, he will hear more from the Government in due course.

My Lords, I fear that this is beginning to sound a like a shopping list, but another way of alleviating stress in the workplace is for employees to have the tools and the training to be able to meet the requirements of their job. Does the Minister agree that the Government’s plans for industrial and workplace training are in a mess? The apprenticeship levy is falling down and workplace training is at a level lower than it has ever been. What will the Government do to get a grip on training?

I admire the noble Lord’s ingenuity in trying to extend the Question to a great many other subjects. Stress has many causes; we understand that there is a problem with it; that is why we commissioned the review by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson—not the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, sitting opposite me—and Paul Farmer. It is also why the Government accepted what they suggested.

My Lords, if Brexit comes in and Airbus and other firms move out of north Wales, with some 7,000 jobs and 400 apprenticeships going with them, will that increase or decrease the stress of those involved in those industries?

My Lords, I suspect that what will increase stress in those industries is the noble Lord and others putting about scare stories of that sort.

My Lords, would it relieve the anxiety of noble Lords if the Minister reminded them that Aston Martin had decided to open a large works in Wales?

My Lords, it is very good that we have such an experienced Minister replying to this Question. Can I urge him to consider introducing counselling sessions for those experiencing work-related depression and anxiety at the moment—namely, members of the Cabinet?

My Lords, without meaning to hog the Question from the Liberal Democrat Benches, can I follow up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel: that we appear to be working considerably harder without improving productivity? What does the Minister think about the suggestion made by a commentator in the Sunday Times that every company needs to invest in making the most of the talent they have rather than endlessly employing cheap labour?

My Lords, we always welcome interventions from the Liberal Democrat Benches and never think there are too many.


I take note of the noble Lord’s suggestion. As we made clear, we accept that there is a problem with productivity. We want to improve it and get it up to levels that we see in other countries.